In many parts of the world, only the government is allowed to have guns. Thanks to the Second Amendment, that’s not the case in the United States. The Founding Fathers realized that disarming the people was the best way to control them – so they didn’t. They recognized life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the inalienable rights of everyone. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to limit the government’s ability to suppress those rights – and it is the Second Amendment that keeps people armed and able to protect their own lives and liberty.
James Madison, the man tasked with drafting the Bill of Rights, was very proud of the fact that most Americans owned guns and learned to shoot at an early age. He often boasted of the American shooting prowess, as did fellow Founder, Thomas Jefferson. Madison explained in The Federalist Papers No. 46 that an armed citizenry was not the norm in Europe, where “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” In a letter detailing the casualties of the Revolutionary War, Jefferson declared the average American soldier far more effective than one of Britain. He credited that with “having been intimate with his gun from his infancy.”
George Mason heavily influenced Madison’s writings, and he shared a belief that was common amongst the Founders and Framers. “To disarm the people … is the most effectual way to enslave them,” Mason said during the debate over the Constitution. The scary part is that he was describing advice given to the British Parliament!
Letters and speeches from James Madison, George Mason, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, and many more – as well as the history of events – show that the United States was won by an armed citizenry and that those who created the nation believed that the right to keep and bear arms was all that stood between a free people and tyranny.
Madison wrote a few versions, but the Second Amendment that Congress accepted and ratified states:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
In Colonial America and the early United States, most men owned firearms and knew how to use them. All of these men together made up the Militia referenced in the Second Amendment. For most of the nation’s history, it was considered – as Jefferson put it – “their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
Often today, we think of the Second Amendment as protecting the right to armed self-defense against personal violence, or even the right to hunt and shoot for sport. But that isn’t the end of it. It also refers to the body of armed Americans as a whole – who have both the right and the duty to defend against tyranny. As Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison on the topic of the Bill of Rights: “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.”
So how stands the “Militia” today? In October of 2019, various polls showed that 30% of Americans claimed to own a gun – that’s about 99.3 million people, assuming the surveys are correct. To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. military – even including ROTC and people who have enlisted but haven’t made it to basic training – comes out to a little less than five million, with an active and ready reserve force of about two and a half million.
Some opposed the Bill of Rights, but for most, it was because they believed the rights so obvious that there was no point in amending the Constitution to specifically state them. Madison and his supporters thought otherwise – that eventually, the government would try to disarm the people. American legislators began proving them correct in 1934.